Tag Archives: Berlin American High School

Memoirs of a (sometimes) football fan

25 Sep

I did something the other evening which I hadn’t done in years. In fact, probably not since I’d graduated from high school.

I attended a high school football game. (Go Trojans!)

The last football game I attended in person was at my alma mater, the University of Oregon. (Go Ducks!) I didn’t go to a lot of games over my four years of college but from time to time I wandered across the Willamette River with my friends and we enjoyed rooting for our (then perpetually losing) team.

That was fun enough, but it’s a whole lot more fun to watch them winning these days on television. That way I can stay dry (it rains a lot in Eugene) and I can go to the bathroom without having to stand in line.

Back when I was in high school I didn’t attend too many games, either. I actually have some pretty good reasons for this. For one, I attended three different high schools, due to my father’s job.

I do remember going to one or two football games my 9th grade year at my school on Orcas Island, Washington. Forget about Friday Night Lights, our games were always played on Saturdays because the opposing teams had to take a ferry to get there and that added a huge amount of time to their traveling schedule. (Go Vikings!)

The next year I lived in Bend, Oregon, and there at Mountain View High School I attended just one game. I didn’t know very many people, and going to football games alone is no fun. (Go Cougars!)

Then I moved to West Berlin, Germany, and I was there for my last two years of high school. There, at Berlin American High School, I attended a handful of games (Go Bears!) but my best friend was the school mascot – which meant that she got to run around in a bear suit for the entire game – so I didn’t have her to sit next to and my other friends weren’t really into football so mostly I stayed home on Saturday afternoons. Yes, the games were on Saturdays there, too, also due to travel issues. It was kinda a big deal getting to and from West Berlin.

So all in all, being at any kind of football game was an anomaly for me. I do remember, way back in third grade, briefly considering becoming a football fan simply to improve my math scores. All the boys were really good at their 7 times tables whereas I hated and despised the 7 times tables and I knew that somehow their talent was involved with football scores.

I don’t really understand the sport of football. Ok…I don’t understand it at all other than I know that a First Down is a good thing and that field goals are sometimes worth one point and sometimes worth three, depending on if they’re accompanied by touchdowns or not. And I know that to get a touchdown the guy with the ball has to cross the end line without dropping the ball and somehow Mary, the Mother of Jesus is often involved.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve never attended a game here in Worthington prior to this year, but there it is. And the truth is, I enjoyed myself.

Does that mean I’ll be going to a lot more games from here on out?

Let’s not get crazy here. I mean, I enjoy hearing my son play tuba in the pep band, but I can only take so much sitting in the cold cheering for the home team before I zone out and begin wondering why some of the players have long black socks and some of the players don’t and wouldn’t they all be more aesthetically pleasing if they all matched and do they need to hire a fashion consultant to take care of this problem?

Apparently the snappy uniforms of the Oregon Ducks have rubbed off on me.

(Incidentally, I’m a little worried about the Ducks this year, what with losing Marcus Mariota and all. And even I know, deep down, that snappy uniforms or no, it takes more than that to win a football game.)

And to that I say: Happy Homecoming, Worthington!


PPW – or, How I Learned to Justify my Expenditures

30 Apr

I loved college. (Go Ducks!) I loved my friends, my classes, my freedom. Not that I was repressed prior to that or anything, but I mean that enjoyed making (most of) my own decisions in college. I enjoyed being an adult.

No, I was not crazy or wild. I was, actually, quite calm and well-behaved. I think the wildest thing I did was sleep out on a sand dune on the Oregon coast in a tent with several other friends on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which, for those who don’t know, is the third week in January. And when I say, “sleep”, I exaggerate. We about froze to death. We had taken two cars and had two tents. When we “woke up” (read “gave up”) on the frigid dawn of the day after MLKjr Day, my tent-mates and I discovered that the other tent/car had given up and driven the 40 minutes back to the U of Oregon.


To be sure, I wouldn’t recommend sleeping on a sand dune in January to anyone except possibly college kids looking to be wild. That kind of wild I can approve of. There was no alcohol involved. Just silliness.

But I digress. I meant to talk about my college obsession with “PPW”. What is PPW, you ask? PPW is the Price Per Wearing of any article of clothing we, as college students, considered buying. There is also its lesser-known cousin, the PPU – Price Per Use. This was also an important consideration.

Take the free gym bag I mentioned in a previous post. Great PPU. Especially considering that it was A) free and B) is now 29 years old and still going strong.

But…again…I digress.

PPW – yes, that’s where I was going.

Exhibit A:

Within days prior to my graduation from Berlin American High School, I bought myself a letterman’s jacket. I had never had a letterman’s jacket. I hadn’t been in any high school long enough to earn one. But finally, my senior year, I earned my letter. What sport, you ask? Ha. Don’t make me laugh. I earned it for my involvement with Speech Club and Drama Club.

Yes, I was that kind of student. I even had a teal-colored corduroy pant suit. Jealous?


So…PPW…my letterman’s jacket, as I recall, cost about 200 dollars, back in 1988. I paid for it out of the $500 I’d won for the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars essay contest. (Who says writing doesn’t pay?) I wore that jacket approximately 1.5 times before graduating. If that.

I did wear it a few times in college because it was kinda cool and said Berlin on it. I got comments every time. But it was HOT, wool, heavy, and Eugene isn’t exactly cold so much as it is wet…so rain-proof gear was much more useful.

I still have the jacket. It’s been worn, oh, MAYBE half a dozen more times since then…on super-cold days…to take out the compost…

PPW of said jacket: about $25. NOT GOOD.


Exhibit B:

The other coat I bought out of that essay contest win: a German Loden trench coat. $300. Wool. Classic. Red and Black. It was warm, fashionable, and, while I only wore it on Sundays to church and occasional other outings, I wore it for about 20 years. I wore it until it was threadbare on the cuffs, missing buttons, pushing its “classic” definition. I LOVED that coat. Still do.

PPW of that coat: oh, definitely less than a penny.


One last exhibit: the silk dress I wore to my 10 year high school reunion.

As I recall, I paid $89 for it, 15 years ago.

I wore it once.

I still really like this dress.  But I by the time the next thing rolled around to which I could wear such a thing...I was pregnant.  And after that my body was switched with an alien's body and I never looked the same again.

I still really like this dress. But by the time the next event rolled around to which I could wear such a thing…I was pregnant. And after that my body was switched with an alien’s body and I never looked the same – or wore the same things – again.

This July will be my 25th high school reunion. If it wasn’t in July, I’d wear my letterman’s jacket. Then the PPW would be down to, oh, $20? But wool isn’t exactly summer fabric. I’ll probably just wear the hippy-ish skirt and top I bought for my friend’s wedding last year. It’s good for a mother of three. And the PPW is already down to about $3.

Yeah. That works for me.

Boggled by Berlin

14 Feb

No, this isn’t exactly a Valentine’s Day post…but the fact remains that I love Berlin, so maybe it counts after all…

"My" U-Bahn station. Pretty much unchanged...unlike me and the city around it!

They say that you can never go back. That once you’ve left a place, you won’t return as the same person you were when you left. Well, conversely, Berlin itself is not the same place it was when I moved away, three days after my high school graduation, in June 1988, and I just have to say that I’m very glad! I’m not the same, either, and that, too, is a good thing.

Okay, if you look too closely, you'll see how tasteless this is. This is the waiting bench at Dahlem Dorf U-Bahn station. Yes...this is quintessential Berlin.

Our apartment building in Berlin. We were the top right-hand apartment (each one was two floors/half of each floor, for a total of 4 in the building).

I returned briefly a few times before my parents moved away in 1990, including being home for Christmas in 1989, one month after The Wall was opened – but I hadn’t been back since The Wall was actually gone, since reunification, since being married, being a mom, being, well, grown up. It had been over two decades since I’d been in this city, and it was, truly, not the same place that I had left.

My street!

My street - cobblestones and all. Looks pretty much exactly the same!!

I think the first thing that struck me when we arrived in Berlin was that our hotel was on THE EAST SIDE of the now non-existent wall! It was just so amazing to me – I mean, last time I’d been here, I couldn’t even GO to this part of the city (well, I could, but not without a lot of hoopla and scrutiny and a passport). Now, we could even ride the U-Bahn (subway) there whereas before the western U-Bahn line would not cross over into the East. It was like magic had occurred – like a marriage had taken place and the The Two had miraculously Become One.

Our hotel, in - the former - east!

Across the street from our hotel - and the view we had every morning while we ate breakfast. The Deutscher Dom.

The Brandenburger Tor / Brandenburg Gate.

My husband took this shot last week. (All the other shots - except the night ones and Bebelplatz - are from a year ago.)

The Quadriga on the top of the Brandenburg Gate. I'd never seen it from the Eastern side before! There's a story about how she was kidnapped by Napoleon in 1806 and taken to Paris. She was returned a few years later. Imagine kidnapping such an enormous thing! And back in the day before cranes!

And, of course, the most magic thing of all: the open Brandenburger Tor – the Brandenburg Gate. I could walk under it now! And, low and behold, the US Embassy actually TOUCHES the gate (with the French and British embassies close at hand – the three allied countries which oversaw West Berlin). Last time I’d been that close to the Gate, I was watching President Ronald Reagan give his famous “Tear Down This Wall” speech with my mother. We had to go through three checkpoints just to get there – in which I was laughed at by the German guards at each one because of my name on the invitation – “Gretchen” is a child’s name in Germany, and “Greta” would be the adult form. (“Chen” is a diminutive.) By the time I got to the third checkpoint and the guards chuckled yet again, I said, “It’s my name, right?” “Ya, ya!”

This statue is titled, "Cry Freedom" and I remember it from the days when it was almost a plea - today it's more of a cry of victory.

As we stood and listened to Reagan’s speech, there were East German guards standing ON the Gate with honking huge guns in hand. I remember thinking that Reagan was an optimist, that was for sure. And now, all these years later…I was walking beneath the actual Brandenburg Gate!! I touched the pillars and just stood there a while, letting it all soak in.

I couldn’t stop marveling about it all. To hear about something is one thing, but to see it and touch it is quite another.

There are a couple places in the city today where huge chunks of the wall are still in place as a memorial. The instant I saw the wall, and drew close to its shadow, I grew cross, grumpy, and withdrawn. That’s how going to the East used to make me feel. It was all so wrong for any country to imprison their people – and all in the guise of keeping them safe. Even, of course, to the extent of killing them if they tried to escape. It just made me angry. So, seeing that wall still standing – even though I could obviously go around it now – just made all those emotions come roaring back. I felt like a sullen teenager again.

Definitely NOT what used to be in Eastern Berlin.

That being said, when we saw, directly across from the former Checkpoint Charlie boarder crossing, that there is a DECADENT WESTERN McDonalds, we just had to eat there. How could we not?!! Last time I’d been at that exact place my passport had been scrutinized by bored German guards and I’d left with a tremendous headache from the horrid whistle on the Eastern U-Bahn. This time, by contrast, I headed East to go “home”. Yes indeed, the world has changed since I was a teenager, and here, at least, it’s a good thing.

The Bundestag...aka, the former Reichstag. This was a museum back in my day. Now it's the very real seat of parliament for Germany.

Everything was gray in East Berlin back then. Gray and depressing and repressed. Now, that exact same piece of land is fantastic – not because commerce and Westernism is so perfect…but because freedom itself gives joy. I am so happy for the people of Germany.

Imagine coming back to a place after more than two decades – a place you loved, a place you understood – and finding it entirely different – not just larger, but fundamentally a different place. I knew what it felt like to live in Berlin – it felt like a benevolent trap – not because I felt trapped, per sey, but because you had this constant knowledge, in the back of your heart, that you could not leave this city. Not without a lot of fuss and bother. You could not jump in your car and drive away. You could not escape – the entire city was surrounded by a communist country and you were NOT welcome there. But now you’ve come back, and the FEEL of the city has changed – the mind-set of the people has changed. It is not the enclosed, shut-off place that it was. It is no longer a trap. Imagine how different – how fantastic – that feels! The city you love no longer has a tourniquet that cut into its very heart. The people of Berlin understand what freedom feels like. As if the air itself is different.

It’s as if the city you love has grown up – that there had been a locked room which no one was ever allowed to see except in gray-tinged glimpses, kept hidden by some cross adult, which now has been opened for everyone to see. Does that make sense? It was as if Berlin and I had both grown up together.

The United States embassy abuts the gate.

The French embassy is across the street from the U.S. one...and down a wee bit.

The British Embassy - just around the corner from the U.S. one.

The Russian embassy - a block or two further up the Unter Den Linden - I'm sure in the same place it was back in my day, though I never walked around there to find out. Each of the embassies have an armed guard in front of them.

I remember riding on a Ferris Wheel one time. It was placed as close to the Brandenburg Gate as it was allowed to be. The wheel stopped when I was at the very top, and I could see into East Berlin, see the tower guards with their guns and orders from on high, see the no man’s land that kept the Easterners away from the wall (they could not walk up to it as you could on the western side), see Unter Den Linden – that famous street, cut off and feeble, compared to its former glory. A sparrow flew past me and kept on flying east, over the wall, over the guards, over the city. I marveled at his freedom to enter the locked room.

Now, more than two decades later, we all have wings to explore this amazing city.

The gate by night.

Berlin is, truly, an incredible place. (It is the only German city without a curfew! Gotta keep those cabarets going!) There are tremendous museums, fabulous stores, and friendly people. And, of course, the history everywhere you go. It fits its new role as an undivided capital perfectly.

Okay, it's impossible to do this justice. This is in Bebelplatz. Know what that means? I'll tell you in a minute. First, let me describe it. This is a window, below which is a all-white room, with white bookshelves on all four walls, floor to ceiling. The shelves are bare. Remember Belelplatz now? It's where Hitler had a magnificent bonfire to burn books. And this window and the room below is the memorial to that wickedness. It will blow your mind.

P.S. – It’s been very hard to write with any degree of perfection about Berlin. It’s all so close to my heart and there is so much to say that it’s hard to say anything concisely! I hope this rambling post isn’t too annoying to read! Oh, and also, I posted about Berlin on August 13th of last year. That was the 50th anniversary of the wall being built, if you’re interested in checking it out. https://afinedayforanepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/50-years-ago-today-an-overnight-atrocity/

No, I'm sorry, I don't know who this introspective man is/was. But I loved the birdie on his feather!

Reflections on the First Day of School

6 Sep

Lucy's first day of pre-school, one year ago. She was a LOT happier than I was on my first day!

As school begins for millions of Americans across the nation today, I can’t help but think of some of my first days of school. Some first days were good. Some not so much.

My first day of pre-school was, unsurprisingly, a huge stress. In my mind I picture myself wearing a blue and white gingham dress, though I’m not really certain that I was. I do know for sure that I sat on the front steps and would not go in. I wept. I probably sulked. I think I clung to my Snoopy doll that somehow got red paint on it which never came off, those being the days before washable Tempera.

I’m not sure how long I sat there before my teacher dragged me in. Well, probably not dragged literally, but for sure coaxed, cajoled, encouraged me in. I think, once I was there, that I enjoyed myself. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, I’d visited it before, but then MOMMY was with me!) I do know that when Mom picked me up on that first day I told her all about two friends I’d made – Eliza and Michelle – so it can’t all have been misery and damp gingham.

I don’t remember much about the successive first days of school after that for several years, which means, I suppose, that they all fit into the “not as stressful” category. But then, the summer after 9th grade, my parents and I (my sisters were out of the house by then) moved off of Orcas Island, Washington to Bend, Oregon. Bend was a small town of 18,000 then. Today it’s well over 100,000 and I’m sure I wouldn’t even be able to find our old house, let alone my high school.

The school, Mountain View High School, had about 1,000 students. Orcas Island High school had 120. Eliza and Michelle were still my classmates, as were the other 30ish kids we’d all grown up with. This new school, as you can imagine, was a bit overwhelming. (I remember wishing I could go to the other high school in Bend…it only had 800 students!) That first day of school fits into the misery category of first days. (Why is it that the bad and sad stuff is so much easier to remember than the good and pleasant stuff?!) I was shy. I was a bit of a nerd. I wore teal-blue corduroy. (What can I say? It was the ‘80’s.) I knew no one. No one…except one boy I’d met at church and who was a year ahead of me and completely out of my league. That didn’t stop me from having a crush on him for the entire year, but that’s another story!

That first morning, in French II, we had to do something in groups. Oy, vey! Group work: the scourge of every inhibited person. One girl, Anna, was particularly kind and that was nice. But then it was lunch time. The other scourge of the inhibited, new student. I’d never had to eat lunch alone before. I’d never had to introduce myself to people and ask if I could sit by them. I couldn’t ask a person to pass the salt without blushing. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t face it.

So I took the sack lunch Mom had made for me and ate in the bathroom, last stall on the right. I did that every day for a week. (Perhaps this is why I HATE bananas and sandwiches to this day. And those brown, paper lunch sacks give me the willies.)

And then, in a stroke of grace, Anna asked me one day in French class if I wanted to sit with her and her friends at lunch. She told me where they usually sat; she said I’d be welcome. Just writing about this makes me smile. I don’t know if she’d noticed that she never saw me during lunch, or if the idea just occurred to her, or what, all I know is that her overtures to me made my day, my week, my year.

We were only in Bend for 11 months and then we moved to West Berlin, where, I am happy to report, that first day was unremarkable. That school was easy to be a new student in because, being a Department of Defense school, filled with children of military parents, everyone there had moved at least once, everyone knew what it was like to be new, everyone understood how to make friends. I’m certain, however, that had I moved directly to Berlin from Orcas, I would have been eating in the bathroom in complete overwhelming fear. Bend, as it turns out, was a blessing. That year of transitions and experience enabled me to sit down near some Berlin girls from English class without dying of embarrassment. Never again would I let myself eat in a bathroom stall.

First day of 3rd and 5th grades, one year ago...

It’s funny, writing this – I don’t usually like to write so seriously, so sentimentally. But there it is: part of my life. Somewhere along the line – and I’m not quite sure where, it was a process, I suppose – I changed. I am not so shy any more, not so intimidated. I can talk to complete strangers! I can even initiate the conversation. That’s a plus about growing up, getting older. Yes, it was an epiphany when I discovered that turning 40 wasn’t the end of the world! It was, in fact, freeing.

Given the right context today, I can be downright obnoxiously loud! Or, at least unafraid. Unafraid of what people think of me, unafraid of offending, unafraid of new situations. When I went to graduate school, I on-purpose picked a school (Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN) where I knew no one, had no friends to fall back on. I wanted to stretch myself, to force myself to reach out. It was an excellent experience.

Even on the first day.

50 Years Ago Today: An Overnight Atrocity

13 Aug

Our apartment building in Berlin! We were the top two floors, right-hand side.

Imagine waking up one day only to discover that an impenetrable wall had gone up in your city overnight and you lived, not in a vibrant, whole metropolis, but rather in a divided, frightened island of a land; your grandparents, perhaps, were unreachable, your girlfriend separated from you forever because of the arrogance of her nation’s Communist ideology. It was August 13th, 1961: 50 years ago today.

"My" U-Bahn station - Dahlem Dorf. The prettiest station in Berlin!

I called that city home for my last two years of high school. West Berlin, Germany, was an amazing place to live. Since I had grown up on an island, with access only by ferry or private boat or plane, somehow living in the isolation of Berlin wasn’t a big deal to me. My father was a pilot for Pan American Airlines, so we had that life-line to the western world if we needed it, but there was so much to do in Berlin that really, we rarely left. I had never lived in a CITY before and, though I couldn’t speak the language beyond “Wo ist die toiletten?” when we moved there, it didn’t really matter. (Right before we moved to Berlin, the principal of my high school on Orcas Island asked me, “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” and I wondered why he was asking me if I spoke Dutch.)

A beloved East German "Ampelmann" pedestrian stop light...now to be found all over the reunited city.

I wish I had learned the language better, wish that I had the gift that certain people have of grasping the verb genders, the inflections of a foreign tongue. I learned a little, most of which I’ve now forgotten, though I was able, in an amazing trip last February, to converse with a store keeper in Berlin, both of us smiling, both of us laughing at our mutual struggles – his in English, mine in Deutsch. It was a pleasant experience, despite my terrible accent, and I returned to his shop 3 times because he made it fun.

The Ampelmann says "go"!

It was amazing being back in Berlin, after 21 years of being away. In a normal city, 21 years may or may not reveal much change. In Berlin, even the name was different…the “West” had disappeared…though in metaphorical terms, the “West” had actually taken over the “East”, and it was really the “East” which was gone. Now, the former West Berlin looks much the same: I found my house, my school, the military base where we shopped and hung out (though it is nothing but an abandoned field now). But the “East” part of Berlin…it’s like another war happened and everything had to be torn down and rebuilt to replace the ruined city. And, really, that is what happened. The Cold War was won…and the Communists backed off, leaving Deutschland united, returning Berlin to its glory days as capital of Germany.

Truman Plaza...no longer the bustling base that it was.

I guess you don't have to show your id card at the gate anymore.

"8 o'clock at Oskar"...a good place to meet! The subway station looks much as it did 20 years ago.

My parents were still living in Berlin when the wall came down on November 9, 1989, and I came home for Christmas that year and hammered out my obligatory bits of history from that hideous monstrosity of a wall: 96 miles of repression. They built it ostensibly to “Keep out Western Capitalism” though really it was built to keep IN the eastern people who were moving out in a steady stream of freedom-seekers. The freedom-seekers continued to seek ways out of East Berlin, sending more than 170 people to their deaths…and over 5,000 to freedom…in the 26 years of its existence. The Berlin Wall Museum, located at the former site of Checkpoint Charlie, is an amazing (albeit dusty) conglomeration of artifacts and stories and pictures of the history of the wall, complete with suitcases and empty car engines that were actually used to smuggle people over Die Mauer. My husband and I HAD to eat at a McDonalds which is located directly across from the museum…smack dab in the center of the former barricade against such brazen western ideals. How could we resist?

The former Berlin American High School...now a German oberschule.

Our football field...now, I suppose, a "football" field...ie, soccer!

Because my parents returned stateside less than a year after the wall opened, I had never seen the actual wall be gone. I had never seen Berlin whole…never been able to take an U-Bahn subway ride from the Kufurstendamm (West Berlin’s main shopping street) straight to Alexander Platz (a famous East Berlin square)…had never been able to shop in the amazing Gendarmenmarkt (because it wasn’t amazing then)…or been able, best of all, to walk through the Brandenburger Tor…because it was in no-man’s land, walk-here-and-be-killed-land. I love that now the Embassy to the United States is actually touching the Brandenburg Gate…love that the French Embassy is close by, the British Embassy…all right there, taking their rightful place in history as the protectors of Berlin back in the days when it needed protecting. The Russian Embassy is up the road a little…nearby, but not right there. It too, has a place in Berlin’s history…but a place that might rather be forgotten.

The Brandenburg Gate - now fully accessable!

“Ich bin ein Berliner,” JFK said in his famous speech declaring the stance of the United States in Berlin’s defense. Nevermind the joke that he accidentally called himself a jelly donut, he stood up for freedom…no less than President Regan did many years later when he stood before the Brandenburg Gate and declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” I was there when he made that speech. My mother and I stood there in the cheering crowd, thinking, “Yeah, right, like that will happen any time soon.” It happened two years later. Freedom has a way of coming to the fore.

I, too, am a Berliner. Even though I was not there for long. I think that we are part of everything that we have ever been. The naughty little children, the rebellious teenagers, the idealistic college students, the clueless new parents, the resigned adults. All of that is in me to this day. And so, on this anniversary of such a terrible oppression, I claim my place as a proud Berliner.

Even though I cannot speak the language.

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